“Hello, I’m Comet.”
“Hi, I’m Perry. Holy crap your eyes are really blue.”
“Thank you. I get that a lot.”
There was a notable absence from the session today. ‘Extremely-Dangerous-Keep-Out-Of-Reach-Of-Children’ Sid had bailed on practice. I sensed something stirring under Jordan’s glances that meant more than they spoke. This last weekend held secrets I needed to uncover.
Perry was making the rounds, introducing himself and prostrating all of his Anarchy identifiers to the team, at Jordan’s subtly commanding request. “My tag is ‘Od!n’. Like the Norse god, but with an exclamation mark instead of an ‘I’. My main is Lady Thrice, but I’ve recently been experimenting with Shiner for the sake of diversity. I’m not bad with Shiner, but Thrice is definitely still my top pick.”
“Weird combination of characters,” GG reclined at one of the desks against the wall, “Not bad, just weird.”
“I’m a weird guy,” Perry said with no particular inflection.
After explaining how the crew was ranked, Soldiers beneath Corporals, beneath the Vice Captain and then the Captain on top, Perry sat down to run the same gauntlet I had the Friday before.
Unlike my trial, he had the advantage of an info dump I’d provided on Sunday. This gave him a distinct leg-up, and he knew what sort of mess to expect from each member.
He lost to Comet.
“What in the name of lord Helix,” he said, not really angry, but instead devastatingly confused, as if he’d believed he’d found the answer to a challenging puzzle, only to be proven wrong and left without an idea of how to proceed. In his defense, Comet’s game seemed to be on today, as she performed significantly better than when I’d traded blows with her.
Comet stood from her seat, brushing aside a swathe of chestnut hair and flooding air through her loose t-shirt. Marvel’s Carnage was emblazoned on the front of the shirt, surrounded by the shadows of a bloody crucible he’d just finished slaughtering. Hindsight, she’d been wearing another Spider-Man related top on Friday. Interesting.
Handing off the controller to Davis, Comet tried to play the loss as no big deal. Which it wasn’t really, but after appealing to Perry’s ego earlier and telling him he’d probably beat Comet, I felt like the frustration was going to taint every remaining matchup.
As Davis sat down – his red jacket a flare among the white of the room – I noticed a small thing. He wasn’t half as perky as last I’d seen him. There was definitely a degree of tension tip-toeing around, but it was largely ignored for the sake of not making things awkward. Not with Davis. Davis was so indifferent and mentally distant that it was like finding shadows in Heaven. Alien and disconcerting.
Unlike our duel, Davis went straight for the throat instead of falling back on his bogus, bag of crude tricks. Perry fell apart the first stock, but managed to pull everything back in the second stock, taking both of Davis’ initial two stocks before being levelled at the beginning of Davis’s last life, equalizing the game at zero damage debt for each player’s final stock.
Then Davis whipped out the inner prick. So heavily he relied on hit-and-run and spamming projectiles that I was starting to itch just watching the match unfold. Fortunately, unlike Brave, Lady Thrice could counter Shiva’s range game with some distance techniques of her own. In the end, Perry handled the heat far better than myself, but still lost by a hairline margin. They were both sitting above 170 DD by the time the match ended. More than high enough for either player to take the cake.
Perry started laughing, and then kept on laughing well past the point of social acceptance or good reason.
“Hey, Perry, settle down man. You’re not a hyena.”
It took a few more, slightly more aggressive prompts from yours truly before he finally dialed it back. “Sorry, that was just…something else. I was so conflicted that laughing felt oddly relaxing. Again, sorry,” he shook his head, “Good match.”
“You too,” Davis said, but that was all. No fist bump, no bleeding bro-savvy aura. It made me sad, because whatever happened, regardless of its magnitude, was obviously affecting him. Unless it was something completely unrelated, but I somehow knew it wasn’t.
GG profoundly destroyed Perry with such pants-wetting efficiency that it was impossible to be upset at the loss. It was beautiful and almost artistic in execution. Perry and GG seemed to be developing a solid bond, though, despite the obliteration. GG made an off-hand reference to some science fiction show I didn’t recognize, but Perry clearly did, and returned a similar, slightly different line of dialogue. Then I found out they are both figurine collectors, and GG’s repertoire apparently has some obscenely rare stuff I know nothing about. That’s okay. I was just satisfied they were getting along.
Finally Jordan took up the mantle. I waited for him to pick Brave, but he didn’t. He selected Thrice, to copy Perry.
My mind imploded.
“Wait,” I interrupted, “I thought you mained Brave?”
He looked at me with knowing and a hidden well of satisfaction, “I wonder.”
“You wonder?” I grew indignant.
No. Was Jordan seriously prepared to play against whatever choice of character Perry had in store, using that character himself? Was he actually good with all of them? The mental deception and illusions he cast threw off my temperament. I wasn’t upset, just so flabbergasted that I had no words.
So instead of talking, I watched. If he really was good with all of the characters, or at least most of them, he’d prove it with skill. And so it was, Jordan came out the victor, though the win wasn’t as clean as against me. He was better with Brave, but was no layman with Lady Thrice. Both had considerable time logged into his copy of Anarchy, I was sure. That was bad enough, but it turned my stomach to possibly see how large his roster of elite characters reached.
And if Jordan was this good with two different characters, and truly was just toying with us, then how good was his real main? The character he would choose if there was money or a title on the line.
I didn’t cast Jordan as much for the theatrical type, but he decided then would be the best time to hint at a shocking bit of knowledge he knew would evoke reactions among us newcomers. Mister captain fancied himself as proficient with as many as seven characters, with three ‘projects’ who were almost within the range of being used in higher-level competition. Even worse?
Lady Thrice wasn’t even one of those seven. She was a project.
At this point, it seemed like bragging, but I think that was the point.
“Good job not getting pissy,” Jordan said after letting a little time melt away, “While everything I said was true, I was intentionally trying to get under your skin, Perry. Sorry if I upset you. You honestly did very well. Though I thought it was weird how you kept cutting your over-special short. You know that attack can carry almost twice as far, right?”
Perry nodded, “At risk of additional lag after the move is performed. Not worth it, especially when I’m already losing the match. Can’t make the windows too large for you or I’d be no competition at all,” Perry looked around, “So where is the last one? The kid from Toy Story? I wanted to take on his Bluffy.”
A half-snort came from Comet’s direction, though she looked around the room as if she somehow wasn’t obviously the culprit, “Sorry,” she said, turning back, “He totally does look like the Sid from Toy Story. Come on, that’s funny!”
Davis was supremely unamused, “We had a bit of a falling out.”
I blinked, “Which means?”
Jordan held up a hand at Davis, as if to ward off a demonic chant, “Do you want to join our crew? Both of you? Right now we have two openings. We could make due with one empty spot, but two is too many. I ask that you are able to attend at least two practices a week, and every competitive event unless notified in advance.”
“Sure, sure,” I waved it off, “But why is Sid not on the team anymore? What happened?”
A mask of equal parts calculation and stagnation effused Jordan’s every feature and fidget. The duration of this pause was deeply unsettling. It was even getting to the point that it seemed one of his own teammates was going to prod further, but finally the mask collapsed in a larger-than-life sigh of exhaustion, “Sorry, it’s been a long weekend and I still don’t know everything that happened. I’ll try to keep things digestible,” he cleared his throat and reached one lanky arm up to scratch at the crown of his head, “Sid is no longer part of the crew because of a number of internal complications. He proved unstable in a tournament setting, becoming overly aggressive when defeated. The proctors and myself gave him a number of chances to tone down his behaviors over the last couple months, but he never could.
“He also didn’t get along with Davis very well, and spoke some less-than-kind things which breached into personal, familial matters. Poor conduct and bad character, basically. Then there’s you two.”
“Us?” Perry said, moving to my side, making me feel like Batman and he was my Robin.
Jordan nodded and sighed again, “First, he didn’t seem very fond of you in the first place, Joel. I still don’t know why. But when you mentioned you were bringing Perry,” Jordan spread a fractional, open hand towards Perry, “Well, he went livid. Called both of you a bunch of names I’d rather not repeat. I don’t know the reason for this either, unfortunately. After you left on Friday, he exited soon after, in a tantrum. Sorry, but I don’t know any more than that. I’ve tried talking with him about it, but I fear he’s blocked my number or something,” he shrugged with the weight of a hopeless struggle, “Oh well.”
“Huh,” I said, out-of-body, “That’s weird.”
Perry seemed especially concerned, to the point of being rid of speech. He opened his mouth a few times, raised his hands in protest against something, and always withdrew before making the plunge. He settled for a resounding, “Us?”
“Like I said, I don’t know,” Jordan clapped his hands together softly, “Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay,” I dispelled the tension, “Thanks for letting us know.”
“You said you were in, right?” He gazed at both of us with a sense of desperate curiosity.
In perfect harmony, both Perry and I locked glances and examined Jordan with the rest of his team. It would be the first step in a dream. I’d never had an actual crew, not even on the horizon. This could change things.
“I’m game,” I said, not giving myself an opportunity to overthink things.
“No offense,” Perry pursed his lips and wrung his hands as if applying hand sanitizer or foam soap, “But do you think that’s a good idea? I just lost to all of you.”
Jordan waved off this comment, “Your performance was more than good enough. I would like to judge you for consistency, but I don’t really have the convenience to make that call anymore. You’ll improve with time.”
A few beats passed, blood flowing through our veins almost louder than our own breathing, “I hope so,” Perry said, a smile breaking onto his cheeks and injecting morale into the room, “Okay, let’s do it.”
“Awesome,” GG chewed on his lower lip, cheeks pulled into a tight grin, “Welcome to the Riotwings.”
Jordan gave us a sideways nod, “Glad to have you aboard. Truly.”
“Ah,” Perry said, “I like it.”
“Riotwings?” I licked my lips, “I can roll with that.”
“You free to do a small tourney this weekend? Nothing major, just a local at Jade Gaming on 30th and Tribune. They hold a competition every other week. The turnout is small, but it’ll get you adjusted to the scheme of the official MLG setup for tournaments. Plus, you’ll be able to meet some of your rivals and hopefully find a few friends. If we’re lucky, Zinky will attend. Though, that usually means none of our crew stands a chance of winning, it’s still good to face people above our caliber. You learn a lot.”
“Zinky?” I said, eyes wide, “The same guy who held his own against Double J in the last Western Grand Rally? He’s from around here?”
“Childhood friends with Comet,” Jordan threw a thumb over his shoulder towards Comet, “Lives in the rural area south of the city, now. Pretty sure he’s homeschooled.”
“He’s a bit weird,” Comet said.
“We can both make it,” Perry answered, already knowing my schedule was clear.
“Good,” Jordan answered.
“Sorry for the trouble we’ve caused,” I said, apologetically, though I had a hard time actually feeling bad. I mean, I was part of a team now. An Anarchy crew. The Riotwings.
“No big deal. Your priority is to get ready for this weekend. Here’s my number. Trade with everyone else before you go. For now…”
“More Anarchy?” I answered, already making moves to take hold of the controller, “I can bring a second set on Wednesday,” I said, “We’ll need it if we want to train more fluidly. One set is too restrictive.” I scanned the character selection screen and landed on Brave.
“Thank goodness!” Comet said, “They almost had me bring mine. Wouldn’t have been fun dragging that thing here all of the time.”
“It’s fine,” I shrugged, “Now, I need to go super-saiyan if I want to stand a chance against some of the people I hope to face, so some serious training is in order.”
I grabbed the idle controller of Player 2 and stretched it out to the open crowd, “Who’s first?”